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How Outdoor Can Chase Its Fair Share of Ad Spending

Metrics Without Insight Won't Do the Trick, Convention Speakers Say

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What do the ad industry's top creative, buying and marketing execs want from out-of-home media? More local insight and less metrics, for starters.

The country's largest sellers of billboards, street furniture and other out-of-home inventory need to reposition the way they sell their media, according to a trio of keynote speakers at the opening session of Outdoor Advertising Association of America's national convention in Miami today.

"It's about being the outdoor industry vs. the billboard industry," said David Jones, the newly appointed CEO of Havas Worldwide. "There's the famous case of railroads, who thought they were in the rail business rather than the transport business. They didn't survive because of it." Mr. Jones pointed to JC Decaux's efforts to reduce the number of billboards in Paris in order to provide bike rentals for the city as the perfect example of a billboard company thinking of itself as an outdoor company. "They're fantastic for residents and tourists," he said.

"You couldn't do it in New York, though," Mr. Jones added. "The potholes are so big you'd disappear down one."

Mr. Jones would also like to see the U.S. outdoor industry embrace digital in the same way the industry has in the U.K., where digital billboards are used heavily in political campaigns. Some more social-media integrations, such as the Twitter campaign the OAAA helped execute for Ashton Kutcher in 2009 would be nice, too. "One of the interesting things about billboards and outdoor is it's inherently social," he said. "TV has always been something people have done in their room; digital is very personal. But outdoor is everywhere. Think about being one of them and acting as one of them and collaborating with them."

Nigel Morris, CEO of Aegis Media North America, suggested that the 900 attendees should think beyond the event's tagline, "Grab your share," and focus on more collaborative strategies. "Out of home is significantly under-represented in the media mix and significantly takes less share than it should," he said. "But don't actually look at the world from inside your silo. Don't look at it from 'How do I build case for our medium against another medium?'"

"The whole point now is everything is interrelated," Mr. Morris said. "The opportunity is to be part of a bigger conversation. There's a world of mobility and fluid consumers. It absolutely plays a critical role in being a connector and business driver."

Ron Cooper, CEO of Clear Channel Outdoor and the convention's co-chair, noted in his opening remarks that the outdoor industry only represented 5% of U.S. media spending in 2010. His stated goal for the sector is to grow market share by 1% over the next three years, or $1 billion in new business.

The industry needs to give decision-makers more reasons to buy out-of-home, added David Payne, CEO of Kinetic Worldwide and the convention's other co-chair.

Another of those incentives is Eyes On, the Traffic Audit Bureau's new metric for out-of-home, whose adoption is still a bit sluggish after being formally introduced in 2009. "Eyes On makes out-of-home more nimble and viable for shorter buying cycles," Mr. Cooper said.

But sophisticated ad measurement can sometimes actually get in the way of outdoor's role in the path-to-purchase process for marketers, cautioned Larry Light, the former global CMO for McDonald's who is now president-CEO of brand consulting firm Arcature. "Business insecurity has now resulted in an overemphasis on superior analytics," he said. "Metrics will not prove the value of out of home. Metrics will justify the nature of the debate. But insight will provide the value."

Mr. Light added that out-of-home companies are often under-valued for their local and regional market knowledge -- a perception problem that has already impacted his own clients at Arcature.

"When a client wanted to reach the Hispanic community, they thought of local TV and they didn't even think about out of home. They didn't even think about being part of the community. But you should be the experts of that neighborhood."

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